Selecting the right frame: what a little girl and her bike can teach us about performance management.

You must choose the right bike...

You must choose the right bike...

We're going to talk about performance management, but first I want you to think about a young kid getting her first bike.  In the beginning she’s just focusing on the basics, like how to keep from falling down, coordinating her pedaling to actually  go forward, steering to get where she wants to go, and braking to avoid the family cat. The basics of what she needs to know to operate a bike, and nothing more.

But then she gets older and decides to take up mountain biking.  She would then have different requirements for her bike, such as thicker tires for bumpy terrain, extra shocks, a water bottle holder, and a stronger frame.

Later on, she might venture into the world of road racing. This means she must evaluate just what she needs in order to gain peak efficiency in her riding. She’ll invest in custom biking shoes, special narrow tires, an aerodynamic helmet, and she’ll replace the bike altogether with a sleek carbon frame designed for speed and agility.

What does this have to do with performance management?  Well, just like choosing a bike, you should choose your performance management system only after carefully considering where you want to go, how fast you want to get there, what load you will be carrying, the terrain you’ll encounter, and what is truly essential to reach your strategic goal. Every company, in every stage of development, and every organization - and often will have different needs.

Why am I introducing this bike analogy?  For several good reasons, actually.  First, the three sides do the core triangle of a bike frame helps us visualize and remember the three goals of performance management (develop people, reward equitably, and drive organizational performance). 

Second, I’m hoping the idea of the bike helps us to get more comfortable with the view that it’s okay to pick a different bike than your next-door neighbor or the competitor across town.  We are in an age of rampant customization, in which we can get one-of-a-kind cell phones, automobiles, clothing—you name it. Your organization’s approach to performance management should be no different.  Yes, I’m telling you right now that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for moving toward a desired performance management program.  What is right for your organization may not make sense for the next, depending on their maturity, objectives, culture, leadership style, and organizational mission. 

Finally, I’ve found that the bike analogy reminds us to design for our end goals — to really design with our strategic objectives in mind. It reminds us to decide for ourselves early in our design journey what those Three Common Goals mean for our organizations.  Are they equal or is one more important than the other for our culture and organization? Are the tightly connected or loosely coupled?  As we move through the design process of rebooting our performance management, remember the idea of that little girl and her bike as you ponder those vital questions.

Riding the wrong bike
The problem with performance management today is that we have been riding the same performance management bike since the 1950s, and more often than not wekeep pulling the same bike out of storage every year without much thought about whether it has the features we need to drive real performance in today’s world.  Technology, the way we do work, and our concepts of motivation and collaboration have all changed. Most importantly, we (as humans) have changed. You’re simply not going to see a true competitor pulling up to the starting line of the Tour de France with a banana-seat bike decked out with training wheels, a daisy basket, and streamers.  When real performance is required, this kind of bike is a joke – as is the idea that conventional performance management will get today’s organizations where they wish to go.

Let’s get to work designing the bike that will allow us to shoot to the front of the pack!


Happy rebooting,

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